Ask you friends what they normally do for summer vacation. I love finding out vacation traditions that emerge within families.
It wasn’t necessarily planned for my extended family to holiday together each Fourth of July. But it has evolved into a magical tradition: one we wouldn’t miss for the world. It’s a week we talk about—and look forward to—year round.
Many years ago we started going to a small plot of heaven in the northwestern corner of Montana. It is speckled with a few cabins and evergreen trees; mountain pastures and wild flowers encase a small, swim-able lake. Some of us would go, others were tied up with work, but everyone was invited. We met in June, sometimes August and then one year landed there over the Fourth of July. It was a week most of us could escape from work, and it turned out to be prime time for floating the nearby river (not too high, not too low). Usually by the beginning of July we are greeted with summer sun.
The next year, we again went during the week of July Fourth—then the year following did the same. Before we knew it, our kids starting claiming it as the best week of the year and the coolest place on earth. That special week in Montana was everything a kid could hope for: time with cousins, few rules, lots of sun and endless things to do. They swam, blew up fireworks, fished and rode go-carts. It was game over: we could never miss this week. Our summer plans will forever hinge on attending this [now official] family reunion.
What I love about our week in Montana: each year is a little different. Another tradition emerged: the bold idea of attaching themes to the reunion week, to inspire activities, arts/crafts and adventure. One year my brother built a Frisbee golf course around the lake (now he brings 20+ Frisbees each year). Another year was deemed ‘the dangerous week for boys’ which may have included shooting flaming arrows at a floating boat, a slingshot crafted between two trees (water balloons) and DIY firecrackers. We had a year of rocket building and blasting, go-cart assembling and racing, others of treasure hunting and spear fishing (with hand-made spears).
Each year the adults decompress. I write an email automater that explains I am [helplessly] off the grid, unplugged. We uniformly extract ourselves from insane schedules and over-saturated routines. It sometimes feels like we scrape stress off with a putty knife. When we exit our lives and pull into the long driveway that leads to the Montana cabins – we have permission to leave our world behind. Approved disconnection, encouraged decompression, hopeful rejuvenation. This translates to: long naps, coveted consecutive hours of book-reading, being social or not, disappearing into a hammock, a bit of bourbon. Or wine. Or green smoothies. It might mean allergies and crabbies, and it certainly means laughter and spontaneous conversation. This year: my nieces painted my fingernails while I took a nap on the deck. Bright orange I might add.
This year’s highlights/memories:
- Sunshine. This year was consistently warm – a treat for lazy time outdoors, lots of swimming, and
- Underwater Spear Fishing. Some of the kids crafted underwater spears and snorkeled for hours hunting Montana white fish.
- BANG. A card game all the cousins played incessantly (it seems the game of choice changes from year to year. One year was all about Dungeons and Dragons, another Killer Bunnies).
- Painted Nails. The nieces have started offering beauty salon features, including manicures and pedicures… sometimes when you are asleep. It only costs $3.
- Swimming. Because it was sunny, the kids all spent hoards of time on the swim dock (in their wetsuits), diving in and out of this mountain-chilled lake.
- Dock Burning. The old dock was known for giving slivers and floating at a slant. It was time for a replacement: all the boy cousins and their uncles constructed a new dock—then burned the old one.
- Carpet Ball. Last year was one tournament. This year Carpet Ball was played round the clock with nightly tournaments (see pictures: the ladies took it a TAD more seriously than the guys). Ahem.
- Graduations, Anniversaries. Each year we celebrate graduations with bubbles and a human tunnel (the grad runs under the tunnel while we spit out bubbles). This year we also celebrated my brother/sister’s 25th wedding anniversary. For their anniversary, we toasted with:
- Holman Ranch. They were kind enough to send me a few bottles to try – little did they know their wines would weave their way through our 2013 family memories. High-end whites became the impetus for my ‘meal night’: I served salmon with dill beurre blanc, fresh snap peas with feta and mint and apple crisp for dessert. Holman’s well-balanced and lingering pinot noirs became a toast—and gift—to my brother and sister-in-law who celebrated their 25th.